NORFOLK — Security personnel banned a former Naval officer from the naval base in Norfolk in July because they said he misused his access to the base as a retiree when he took photographs for his newspaper without a public affairs escort.
Former Navy Petty Officer Harry Gerwien, now a photographer for Soundings, an independent weekly covering Navy affairs in Norfolk, said the ban was unfair because he did not reveal any military secrets in his pictures.
Gerwien, a 21-year veteran of the Navy, said the majority of the pictures he has taken at the base have been of “benign” events such as golf tournaments, open houses, and basketball games.
He admitted to photographing a ship at its open house in June without a public affairs escort, but said he had cleared it with the skipper ahead of time.
“That was an open event. A civilian could have come aboard and taken pictures,” he said.
A few weeks later, Gerwien received a registered letter from R.H. Stuhlman, director of security for the base, banning him from the premises until further notice. The letter said he was being excluded for several violations over the past two years, and that he had been given repeated warnings.
Gerwien said the previous violations were not listed and said he had not received warnings of any kind prior to the July 7 letter.
“It was kind of like I was tried and convicted without a trial,” Gerwien said.
Base spokesman Jim Baron told the Navy Times in late September that banning Gerwien was a legitimate action taken against anyone gaining repeated access to the base without authorization.
Baron said Gerwien and Soundings editor David Stump had been given repeated warnings when base security saw him on the base taking photos without a public affairs escort.
“I sent a warning letter to a T.V. reporter [who had violated the escort policy in August] as well,” Baron said.
Stump said the paper appealed to public affairs officers and asked to be included in any investigation of Gerwien, but were denied an appeal in August.
The editor then said he met with the officials to argue Gerwien’s right to be on the base as a member of the press, but the Navy said he had exploited his position as a retiree.
The Navy agreed to allow Gerwien back on the base in October if he did not violate the ban. Stump said after he and Gerwien meet with Baron and other officials in early October, he expects the Navy to lift the ban.
Gerwien said he remains pro-Navy and Stump stressed the need for the press and the military to have a good working relationship, but both object to what they call the Navy’s insistence on trying to control the media.
“On military bases, there should be some openness and freedom of the press, because it’s a taxpayer-supported operation,” Stump said.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.